BYU vs. Hawai’i (New Orleans Bowl)
When: Tuesday, December 24th, 8:00 PM EST/3:00 PM HST
Where: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawai’i
TV/Streaming: ESPN, WatchESPN (subscription req’d)
Hawai’i Bowl History (Last 6)
Dec. 22nd, 2018: Louisiana Tech 31, Hawai’i 14
Dec. 24th, 2017: Fresno State 33, Houston 27
Dec. 24th, 2016: Hawai’i 52, Middle Tennessee State 35
Dec. 24th, 2015: San Diego State 42, Cincinnati 7
Dec. 24th, 2014: Rice 30, Fresno State 6
BYU Cougars (FBS Independent, 7-5)
It’s literally the perfect team for the perfect bowl. BYU, who has played Hawai’1 31 times in their history, will be engaged in a genuine Rivalry game on Christmas Eve with most of the nation’s sports fans with eyes on Aloha Stadium.
The two schools first matched up in 1930 in Honolulu and played just four times over the next 47 years before Hawai’i joined the WAC in 1978 (joining BYU). Beginning in 1978, the two played in 22 of the next 25 seasons before revisiting the series in 2011 for four more games up to the present.
BYU leads the all-time series 23-8, the last meeting coming last year when the Cougars beat the Rainbow Warriors 49-23 to deny Hawai’i a bowl bid. That loss definitely has brought up the temperature of this bowl game.
There’s also the fact that BYU has a fair number of “players that are involved and connected to the state of Hawai’i,” BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake said this week, who himself grew up on the north shore of Hawai’i. BYU’s game notes say that the Cougars roster has 40 student-athletes of “Polynesian descent.” Additionally, BYU has a satellite campus in Hawai’i as well. literally on the opposite side of O’ahu where the University of Hawai’i is located.
There’s also the fact that athletically, BYU has also had one of the more bizarre, inconsistent seasons in recent memory. A win against a rival would really take the sting off of a 7-5 regular season with big wins against Tennessee, Boise State and then-24th ranked USC, yet also some truly head-scratching losses to USF and Toledo.
BYU fans expect a lot of offense, so a 13-3 loss to San Diego State late in the season proved to be a particularly bitter loss that undid a fair amount from the relatively easy five game winning streak that got the Cougars bowl-eligible. BYU passed for 388 yards but couldn’t get into the end zone.
Key Player: All eyes will be on QB Zach Wilson, who had a tremendous year in 2018 as a freshman and started out gangbusters until he fractured his right thumb against Toledo in September. He has recovered from that however and has been the starter again at the end of the season, putting up more than 300 yards passing against San Diego State. His Drew Brees-like performance in last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will mean the pressure is on for him to put on another great performance. When he’s on, he spreads the ball very effectively to a variety of receivers.
Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (1st Mountain West-West Division, 9-5, 5-3)
“Before we even accepted the invitation, and the news came out that BYU had accepted the invitation, I had family that was already talking about BYU vs. Hawaii, BYU vs. Hawaii,” said Hawai’i RB Dayton Furuta. “The crowd is behind us. I don’t know exactly where the (hatred) for BYU comes from,” he said. “I guess it is just two big fanbases on one little island.”
Though the hatred might run deep, the links between these rivals run deep. In fact, the rivalry is what led to this bowl game.
On Dec. 8, 2001, BYU came to the island of O’ahu with a 12-0 record, ranked nationally at No. 9, were Mountain West Champions, and had hopes of being a part of what was known then as the Bowl Championship Series. On the other side, UH was 8-3 and didn’t have an invitation to a bowl game.
When time ran out, the 50,000 fans at Aloha Stadium saw UH rout the visiting Cougars 72-45, spoiling their bid to the BCS and ending a six-game losing streak in the series. Current head coach Nick Rolovich served as the quarterback for UH. Rolovich threw for eight-touchdowns and was responsible for 48 points – marks that still stand as school records – as well as accounting for 543 passing yards.
As a result of the game, BYU was knocked out of contention for a national championship, suffered their first loss of the season, and went to the Liberty Bowl, while UH still didn’t receive a bid to a bowl game. The attention from that epic game – and the snub of the Rainbow Warriors – were the impetus of the Hawai’i Bowl being created the following season. UH appeared in the game in its first three years of existence.
Like BYU, a win here to close out the year for Hawai’i would be a great statement by a rival who has consistently looked at the Cougars and mostly being just a little bit better and developing their Polynesian players just a little bit better. Even though Rolovich has completely turned Hawai’i around from their doldrums, a 9-5 record with two losses to Boise State might not feel complete without a 10th win against a bitter rival.
Key Players: UH is on the verge of featuring three 1,000-yard receivers this season, which would mark the second time in program history and only the sixth time in FBS history. Currently WR Cedric Byrd II is the only receiver to crack the 1K mark with 1,068 yards. WR Jared Smart needs 13 yards, while WR JoJo Ward is 25 yards from reaching that mark.
Getting them the ball will be the sometimes brilliant but inconsistent QB Cole McDonald, who has 3.642 yards passing and 29 touchdowns, but also 12 interceptions. By the end of the season he was splitting time with QB Chevan Cordero, who has kept the interceptions down but hasn’t been the same type of offensive wizard when at his best.
Chuck: When emotions run high, it makes for a very difficult game to figure out. This feels like an old-fashioned Harvard/Yale, Michigan/Ohio State sort of rivalry, which truly sets it apart from the other games, and seems to have tantalizing potential to be an offensive explosion, despite Hawai’is relative inconsistency on offense and BY’U’s dud they put up against San Diego State. I think in the end BYU, with the extra weeks to prepare, will win out with a huge performance by Zach Wilson. BYU 56, Hawai’i 49
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
Reach him at: this email or click below: